Historical Flash

I’m happy to have earned a special mention over in the thick competition at Flash Friday! this past week. Our picture prompt was a lovely, sunlit image of the Colosseum, and we had the additional instruction to include a janitor as a character.

As usual, I went for a historical interpretation of the image. I’m aware that this might make my stories less accessible—it’s hard to do historical fiction in less than 200 words. Flash fiction does not lend itself to descriptions of setting or exposition or the social concerns of an era. So I rely on my readers’ knowledge of time and place to fill in the gaps, which is always a risk. It’s pretty safe to write in the present day, as readers will be able to pick up familiarities in characters, places, and vocabulary. But who can say whether a reader will recognize historical references?

Sometimes I highlight my setting in my title—for instance, “Memphis, 1964,” though I always feel this is a bit of a cop out on my part. Other times, I try to use marker words—for instance, “bodkin,” which I hoped would alert readers to the era of a witch-hunting story, though it was impossible for me to tell if this worked or not. But it’s always a hit or miss proposition to write historical flash. Even so, I love it.

This week, I’m fairly certain my historical flash worked better because I referenced a time that nearly everyone knows about on account of the film Gladiator.

This made me think about the interface between readers and writers, especially in flash fiction, which depends a great deal on what the reader brings to the table. A lot of flash asks readers to make inferences and fill in gaps. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. I experiment with how much information is needed to convey historical circumstances. My own impression as a reader is that a direct style works better, or perhaps has more “mass appeal.” At the same time, I often feel my best stories are the elusive ones. I’m going to continue with my attempts at historical flash, even if they don’t always work as well as I’d like.

Here’s the special mention Gladiator-Janitor story:


“One hundred tigers from Anatolia,” whispered Flav, peering through the hypogeum slats as the crowd’s shrieks intensified. “Barbary lions.”

Marcel squeezed his eyes closed, imagining the blood. Great pools of it, congealing in the sun, soaking into the sand. Smearing his legs, soiling his hands. Already the coppery odor left him dizzy, permeating the tunnel where the slave-janitors waited.

The tunnel shook with screams from the Colosseum crowd. Their gate cranked open; one of the gladiators had gone down.

Flav and Marcel, beefy youths, were always sent out first; they could heave a body quickly, and speed was important in animal contests. There were no guarantees that the taunted creatures had been subdued.

Flav grasped the dead gladiator’s wrists. Marcel took the ankles.

Nearby a beast howled in pain. Flav’s eyes widened at some horror of fangs and claws. Janitors carried no weapons. Theirs were cheap, invisible lives. They cleaned the messes that everyone else could ignore.

Flav stumbled and dropped the body, marooning Marcel beneath its burden. Bloodsmell poisoned the air.

The arrow-ridden beast, in its dying rage, hit Marcel like a Fury, all slicing claws and spraying blood.

Their deaths were fast, though no one screamed or even noticed them fall.


Pilates Project: Tuck and Arch

One of my goals for 2015 is to write a Pilates book. The first part will be essays on Pilates and my teaching experiences. I’ve been teaching Pilates for fifteen years now and I feel like I have some things to say about it. The other part of the book will be an in depth look at many of the Pilates mat exercises. To help me get started on the exercise portion of the book, I’ll be sharing, on occasion, some of the exercises here.

Today’s exercise is a simple centering exercise. Be comfortable and gentle while you do this.

Tuck and Arch.

Tuck and arch is a movement of the pelvis and lower back. It will help you learn to feel the difference between having a flattened or imprinted lower back and an arched or engaged lower back. The last part of the exercise will help you relax and feel a neutral position of the lower back.

Starting position: On a comfortable surface like a mat, lie down on the back with knees bent, soles of feet resting flat, and knees and feet together so there is no gap between the legs. Arms rest at your sides. Put a pillow under your head if your neck has any discomfort.

The movement: Begin by gently tucking the hips under to drop the lower back down into the mat. Imprint the back into the mat as though making a mark in sand. Allow the neck to move naturally in response.

Next, arch the lower back away from the mat, keeping the buttocks in contact with the mat so you make a gap only beneath your lower back. Again, allow the neck to move naturally in response. Move back and forth between these two positions several times, keeping within a range that is comfortable.

On the final arching of the lower back, hold for an extra moment and really feel the back muscles engage. Take a deep, full inhalation. As you exhale, let EVERYTHING relax. Allow the pelvis and lower back to settle into their tension-free positions and allow the bones to be heavy and neutral.